Located on the campus of Midland College, Early College High School @ Midland College is a joint effort between the Midland Independent School District and Midland College to provide students with the opportunity and support necessary to achieve their goal of post secondary education. Upon the completion of four years, it is expected that students will receive a high school diploma from MISD as well as an associate's degree from Midland College through the confluence of high school courses and dual credit opportunities. The first class was welcomed in the Fall of 2009.
Early college high schools are small schools designed so that students can earn both a high school diploma and an Associate’s degree or up to two years of credit toward a Bachelor’s degree. Early college high schools have the potential to improve high school graduation rates and better prepare students for high-skill careers by engaging all students in a rigorous, college preparatory curriculum and compressing the number of years to a college degree.
A postsecondary education is almost essential for financial and personal freedom in today’s economy. A four-year college graduate earns two-thirds more than a high school graduate does. An Associate’s degree translates into earnings significantly higher than those earned by an individual with a high school diploma alone.
National statistics on the progression of students from high school to college illustrate why it is imperative to better connect and integrate secondary and postsecondary schooling. For example:
Young people from the middle-class and wealthy families are almost five times more likely to earn a two- or four-year college degree than those from low-income families.
For every 100 low-income students who start high school, only 65 will get a high school diploma and only 45 will enroll in college. Only 11 will complete a postsecondary degree. (Source: JFF analysis of data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study for students from the lowest-income SES quintile. The period of time measured includes outcomes from students’ entry as ninth graders in 1988 to the year 2000.)
High school graduates from poor families who score in the top testing quartile are no more likely than their lowest-scoring, affluent peers to attend college. The former enroll at rates of 78 percent; the latter at 77 percent. (Based on the high school graduating class of 1992; source: Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, 2001.)
Nearly half of our nation’s African-American students and nearly 40 percent of Latino students attend high schools in which graduation from high school is not the norm. In the nation’s 900 to 1,000 urban “dropout factories,” completing high school is a 50:50 proposition at best. (Source: Robert Balfanz and Nettie Legters. 2004. Locating the Dropout Crisis—Which High Schools Produce the Nation’s Dropouts? Where Are They Located? Who Attends Them? Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University.)
Such data call for radical interventions to increase the number of low-income young people gaining postsecondary credentials. Clearly, bold education policies and practices are needed to ensure that more young people earn the postsecondary credentials that are crucial to their individual economic security and to the viability of our nation’s economy.
Over the last decade, opportunities have expanded for high school students to earn college credit. Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses and their accompanying tests give many students ways to take college-level courses from their regular teachers, usually during their senior year. Students in dual enrollment programs remain formally enrolled in high school but take college courses, taught by either high school or college faculty, in classrooms located either at their high school or on a college campus. At the same time, more and more community colleges are developing ways to accelerate high school students (as well as high school dropouts) by enrolling them in college courses. Meanwhile, a variety of postsecondary incentive programs reward students with free or reduced college tuition for finishing some college work in high school. And, at the most dramatic end of the continuum, students at middle colleges and early college high schools can complete up to two years of a college program while still enrolled in high school.
Until recently, this educational terrain of college-courses-in-high-school belonged almost exclusively to a small, privileged group of young people: those whose families could afford high-quality private high schools and those in well-funded public schools that offered Advanced Placement and similar options to their highest-achieving students. But today’s programs that allow students to earn college credit in high school are no longer limited to elite schools. Students from a wide range of backgrounds and with diverse prior accomplishments are demonstrating that the academic challenge provided by college-level courses can be an inspiration, not a barrier. The job of early college high school faculty and partners is to refine the instructional practices and wraparound support structures that move students from inspiration to true achievement. Some of the most promising strategies currently in use in early college high schools include: adopting school-wide literacy practices, focusing on inquiry-based instruction across grade levels and content areas, and creating “shadow” or “lab” courses to complement college courses.
The question for the future is the degree to which opportunities like these will increase the number of young people who gain a postsecondary credential—especially among those who remain underrepresented in higher education.
The Early College High School Initiative focuses on young people for whom the transition into postsecondary education is now problematic. Its priority is to serve low-income young people, first-generation college goers, English language learners, and students of color, all of whom are statistically underrepresented in higher education and for whom society often has low aspirations for academic achievement. The initiative will increase the number of these young people who attain an Associate’s degree or two years of college credit and the opportunity to attain a Bachelor’s degree.
As of the 2006-07 school year:
Over 20,000 students in 24 states are attending early college high schools.
Two-thirds of students enrolled in early college high schools are African-American or Latino.
Eight early college high schools target and serve Native students.
Twelve schools specifically serve students who previously dropped out or were unsuccessful in traditional high schools.
The majority of students enrolled in early college high schools across the nation will be the first in their family to attend college.
Nearly 60 percent of early college high school students are eligible for free and reduced lunch.
As of the 2008-09 school year, the Early College High School Initiative had started more than 200 schools in 24 states. Through the initiative’s continued efforts, the 13 partner organizations will ultimately open about 250 small high schools, serving over 100,000 students annually.
Each early college high school develops a unique vision and a learning environment that represents community interests and student needs. However, all early college high schools share the following characteristics:
Students have the opportunity to earn an Associate’s degree or up to two years of transferable college credit while in high school.
Mastery and competence are rewarded with enrollment in college-level courses and the opportunity to earn two years of college credit for free.
The years to a postsecondary degree are compressed.
The middle grades are included in the school, or there is outreach to middle-grade students to promote academic preparation and awareness of the early college high school option.
Schools provide academic and social supports that help students succeed in a challenging course of study.
Learning takes place in small learning environments that demand rigorous, high-quality work and provide extensive support.
The physical transition between high school and college is eliminated—and with it the need to apply for college and for financial aid during the last year of high school.
Early college high school is not the only effective way to improve education; rather it is one among a number of promising approaches for improving education for all young people. In particular, early college high school shares the attributes of high-performing small schools:
A common focus on key, research-based goals and an intellectual mission;
Small, personalized learning environments, with no more than 100 students per grade;
Respect and responsibility among students, among faculty, and between students and faculty;
Time for staff collaboration and for including parents and the community in an education partnership;
Technology as a tool for designing and delivering engaging, imaginative curricula; and
Rigorous academic standards for both high school work and the first two years of college-level studies.
As with many innovative educational pathways to a high school degree and beyond, early college high school is appropriate for a wide variety of young people. The partners in the initiative believe that encountering the rigor, depth, and intensity of college work at an earlier age inspires average, underachieving, and well-prepared high school students. However, the small schools being created through the Early College High School Initiative focus on students for whom a smooth transition into postsecondary education is now problematic.
What sets early college high school apart from dual enrollment, Advanced Placement, and other pre-college programs is the reach and coherence of the blended academic program and a relentless focus on underrepresented students. As with early college high school, Advanced Placement and dual enrollment strategies give students a taste of college, yielding multiple benefits: for students, better preparation for college; for institutions, lower remediation costs and higher retention; and for high schools, improved understanding of the demands of college and an expanded set of curricular offerings. However, only early college high school:
Fully integrates students’ high school and college experiences, both intellectually and socially;
Enables students to earn up to two years of college credit toward a degree while in high school, not just a few college credits;
Blends the curriculum as a coherent unit, with high school and college-level work melded into a single academic program that meets the requirements for both a high school diploma and, potentially, an Associate’s degree;
Grants college credits through the postsecondary partner institution and enables students to accumulate the credits toward a degree from that institution or to transfer them to another college.
Two years of college is the minimum required to put young people on the road to a middle-class income, but the high school-to-college transition is a point at which the education system loses many young people. To ease this transition, early college high school consciously integrates the high school and college experiences. The curriculum is designed as a coherent unit, with high school and college-level work blended into a single academic program. These schools allow young people to focus on their studies in their last years of high school, rather than be distracted by the daunting maze of college and financial aid applications. Just as important, this makes college far more affordable for students and their families, who save two years worth of college tuition. By the time students have graduated from an early college high school, they have gone well past the “20 credit threshold” that is a key breaking point between students who complete a college degree and those who never finish college. (Source: Clifford Adelman, 2006. The Toolbox Revisited: Paths to Degree Completion from High School Through College. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.)
Early college high schools offer a much-needed alternative to traditional high school programs and emphasize academic preparation, support, and success in higher education. Based on research and practice about what helps underrepresented young people prepare for success in high school and postsecondary education, early college high schools have three key features that promote success for even the most struggling students:
Small size. Early college high schools enroll 100 or fewer students per grade. Students are well-known by adults.
Personalization and student supports. There is an emphasis on assessing students and providing supports based on the identified needs of individual students.
Power of place. Early colleges draw on the college environment and experience to build students’ identity as college goers.
Each school in the Early College High School Initiative is a partnership between a school district and a postsecondary partner. The postsecondary partners include community and technical colleges, four-year colleges, and universities (both private and public). The postsecondary partners are key players in the design and day-to-day operation of early college high schools, which treat the high schools years and the first two years of college as a single, coherent course of study.
An early college high school requires sustained involvement from both the secondary and postsecondary sides. Administrators and faculty from the postsecondary institution participate in the life of the early college high school both formally and informally. Their involvement includes participation in: school planning processes and governing boards, curriculum committees, syllabus planning activities, co-delivery of courses with high school faculty, provision of tutors, mentors and student teachers, and the creation of “scaffolded” learning experiences such as “bridge” courses to ease the transition to college-level work and mini-seminars for younger students.
No. Early college high school courses, including college-level courses taken on the campuses of partner colleges, are free to students.
When students complete early college high school, they have a high school diploma and a significant number of college credits or even an Associate’s degree. Either outcome gives early college high school graduates a leg up when they enter a two- or four-year college or university. The initiative’s partnering schools, colleges, and organizations expect this jumpstart will increase the number of young people who earn a Bachelor’s degree. This expectation is supported by current research on pathways to college completion, which recognizes the “20-credit threshold” as the breaking point between students who complete a college degree and those who do not. (Source: Clifford Adelman. 2006. The Toolbox Revisited: Paths to Degree Completion from High School Through College. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.)
Although the initiative is relatively young, early data from early college high schools are promising. First, the schools are reaching their target populations. Nationally, roughly three-fourths of the young people attending early college high schools are students of color, while nearly 60 percent report eligibility for free or reduced-priced lunch (a conservative indication of the number of students from low-income families). Most students attending early college high schools will be the first in their families to go to college.
In contrast to alarming national data for students with similar demographic profiles, attendance rates for early college high school students average over 90 percent, indicating high levels of student engagement and commitment to the academic program. Grade-to-grade promotion rates in early college high schools also exceed 90 percent, and the first students have graduated with impressive results.
In 2006, three early college high schools granted diplomas to their first graduating classes. Those 115 seniors achieved dramatic success:
In 2007, more than 900 students graduated from 17 early college high schools around the country. Their achievements far surpass those of their peers from traditional high schools serving similar populations. Preliminary data show that:
Additional data on outcomes will be available from the Student Information System (SIS). The SIS is a highly secure system that provides data to support the Early College High School Initiative. The SIS collects aggregated data and unidentifiable, student-level data for the period beginning at least two years prior to enrollment in the early college high school through graduation or departure from the school. Schools and school districts supply data related to a number of broad categories: staffing, student demographics, student longitudinal information, early college high school courses, student GPA, transcripts, student enrollment, student discipline, student attendance, and graduation. The SIS will document students’ post-early college high school enrollment in higher education through the National Student Clearinghouse. The SIS is coordinated by Jobs for the Future and Public Consulting Group.